Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina voters will decide in March whether the state should borrow roughly $2 billion to upgrade buildings at universities and community colleges along with other projects.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed what has been dubbed the Connect NC Bonds Act on North Carolina State University's Centennial Campus in Raleigh on Wednesday, kicking off a five-month push to convince voters they should sign off on the borrowing.
"It's our job to educate the people," McCrory said as he ticked off a long list of public officials and business leaders who have signed on to help with the campaign in some way.
Included among those honorary chairmen are Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore. Wednesday's signing ceremony was a convivial end to political battle over the bill, which early on saw lawmakers skeptical about prospects of passing a borrowing package. At least two high profile Democrats – Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue and Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson – have also signed on as honorary co-chairs.
North Carolina's last bond referendum was in 2000. Since then, the state had added roughly 2 million people and weathered multiple economic hits, including the recent recession. McCrory argued now is the time to invest, especially because the new borrowing would not require lawmakers to raise taxes.
That will be up to voters, who will have a chance to vote on the debt during the March 15 primary. That's the same date they will choose their party's nominees for president, statewide offices, the General Assembly and many county offices.
Just less than half of the bond will go toward the University of North Carolina system, with another 17 percent slated to upgrade community college facilities. The remainder of the bond will be split between water and sewer projects, the National Guard, agricultural boosting projects and state parks, including the North Carolina Zoo.
"There's a group of us that will be coordinating and working on promoting the passage of the bond," said Robert Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice. "The individuals all have particular areas of interest in expertise."
For example, Orr has long been a booster of the state parks system and is planning to appear with McCrory at an event at Stone Mountain State Park in Roaring Gap on Thursday. He points out the timing of the bond package is good because North Carolina's parks system is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
While officials such as McCrory and business leaders have lent their names to be "honorary chairmen" of the bonds effort, it will be Orr and other members of a "working group" responsible for overseeing the day-to-day campaign.
It's unclear exactly how that campaign will be structured. In the past, bond boosters have formed a special state election committee to raise and spend money. Organizers will also have the option of creating a nonprofit corporation such as a 501(c)(4) group to press for the bonds.
Orr said he was unsure what form the campaign would take. He said he had been tapped by McCrory only two days ago to serve as part of the group.
Other members of the working group named by McCrory include Dr. Joan Perry, a member of the UNC Board of Governors, Venessa Harrison, AT&T's North Carolina president, retired Brig. Gen. David Jennette and Jim Rose of Yadkin Bank.